Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ has solicited advice about weaponizing the Department of Justice from a lawyer who authored torture memos in 2005 and a pundit who has repeatedly made anti-Black comments.
Steven Bradbury wrote three official opinions during George W. Bush’s second term authorizing the CIA to use torture techniques, “even when multiple methods were used in combination, and despite the prohibition in international law against ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading’ treatment.” He is now a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and writes for its media outlet, The Daily Signal, and has also made recent appearances on One American News and Newsmax, far-right competitors to Fox News. Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and a longtime conservative commentator with a history of making racist remarks, including recently appearing on Fox and blaming Black men for a “crime wave” in cities across the country.
Real Clear Politics reports:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been working for months on plans to tear down and rebuild both the Department of Justice and the FBI, consulting with experts and members of Congress to develop a “Day One” strategy to end what conservatives see as the weaponization of the justice system.
He consults frequently with Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas, conservatives always at war with government bureaucracy and openly hostile to federal power. Steven Bradbury of the Heritage Foundation and Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution have also joined the working group to offer technical expertise and historical perspective.
The group is providing DeSantis with advice on how to gut the Department of Justice by removing career staffers deemed insufficiently reactionary. This effort is in line with broader conservative goals to reimplement Schedule F, a late Trump-era executive order that reclassified some federal workers as at-will employees to eliminate their labor protections. The next Republican president could potentially convert as many as 20,000 career staff positions into political appointments, eviscerating decades of institutional knowledge across the executive branch.
Although Real Clear Politics doesn’t use that term specifically, the overlap is unmistakable. DeSantis “takes a broader view of executive authority than is typical of constitutional conservatives and who has told advisors he ‘doesn’t buy’ the idea that presidents can’t fire anyone on the federal payroll,” RCP reports, adding that the Florida governor is focused on removing “special protections for a legion of federal civil servants.” “He makes little distinction between political appointees, such as FBI Director Christopher Wray, and the federal government’s career employees, a workforce numbering 35,000 at the FBI alone.”
It’s long been clear that right-wing criticisms of the DOJ and FBI are not based on a skepticism of federal law enforcement per se, but instead on the unsupported view that these agencies are persecuting conservatives. According to Real Clear Politics, another key aspect of DeSantis’ restructuring project is to magnify the reactionary elements in the FBI, which right-wing media and politicians have cast as hostile to conservatives — or weaponized against them, in their preferred vernacular.
And while much of the DeSantis plan to end “weaponization of federal agencies” involves limiting and focusing the role of the Justice Department, the governor pointed to one area of federal expansion. Pointing to Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, he promised to direct the DOJ to go after and hold “accountable” progressive local prosecutors who “are not prosecuting cases against violent criminals.”
DeSantis apparently aims to achieve this rebalancing toward a more overtly revanchist DOJ in part by dismantling the Civil Rights Division, a relatively progressive element of federal law enforcement that has imposed consent decrees on racist and discriminatory police departments throughout the nation. (Former President Donald Trump eliminated that authority during his tenure.)
There are other things DeSantis would have the Justice Department do much differently. He described the mission of the Civil Rights Division during his presidency as one where the agency “is actually policing discrimination.” That division would be truly colorblind, the governor said, because “discrimination is discrimination,” adding that he didn’t think it was acceptable to discriminate against individuals who “happen to be white or Asian.”
The piece further notes that Hanson “has urged DeSantis to crack down on officials who deceive the public and lawmakers about their activities,” while Bradbury “told DeSantis that not only could he ‘relocate the FBI headquarters’ without legislation from Congress, but he could also eliminate and then consolidate the bureau’s general counsel, public affairs, and government relations offices with existing divisions in the DOJ.”
Bradbury and Hanson are both well-known quantities in conservative circles.
In 2017, Trump nominated Bradbury to serve as general counsel for the Transportation Department, sparking a backlash from media outlets and human rights organizations due to his role in authoring several of the Bush-era “torture memos.” Bradbury was later confirmed, although Republican Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul voted against him on the grounds of his complicity in the torture program.
Hanson has advanced racist ideas in right-wing media since at least 2013, when he wrote a piece for the National Review titled “Facing Facts about Race,” commenting on “the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime” — specifically young, Black men. More recently — in addition to blaming Black men for a supposed “crime wave” — Hanson joined Fox News host Sean Hannity in pushing the racist “great replacement” theory, claimed Democrats were welcoming Afghan refugees to change the demographics of the United States, and criticized Pentagon efforts to mitigate white supremacy in the military.
As the Republican primary continues to unfold, DeSantis and Trump will almost certainly escalate their selective attacks on the FBI and DOJ. As DeSantis’ circle of advisers makes clear, these criticisms are not about protecting the civil rights of all people in the United States from oppressive policing. The aim instead is to dismantle progressive elements of the federal government and empower reactionary forces in response to right-wing media’s baseless accusations that they’re victims of the very weaponization they seek to unleash.